Why B2B Marketers Need a Ping-Pong Plan

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Let’s say that the above is representative of a B2B buying process. Yep, it gets a little messy. All the people involved, the back and forth. The side discussions that you’re not part of as you’re returning a lob from a different contact. The bystanders who are observing your every smash and volley.

I’ve been working on scenario planning in my projects with clients. It’s amazing how many variables there are today than just a few months ago. There will be more tomorrow.

But here’s the thing: Most marketers don’t think about the interplay or ping-ponginess (yes, this is a new word) of the B2B buying process. We still have campaign mentalities. We still care mostly about what we want buyers to do – whether we’re accommodating what they want, or not.

We still sit down to plan a campaign and focus on the deliverables. “Okay – let’s publish a couple of blog posts to drive registrations for a webinar, then we’ll follow that with a white paper and a sales pitch. How many leads do you think we can generate for sales if we execute this program in Q2?”

Why don’t we ever think about it like Ping-Pong®? There’s a rhythm to Ping Pong (which I know is table tennis, but it doesn’t have the same ring and you know what I mean), a back and forth.

Playing Ping Pong is like having a conversation.

And this is what your content should be designed to do. It doesn’t mean that the program above won’t work if rethought, but the problem is that it stops dead in its tracks when planned this way. It’s a snippet of the conversation that will need to be held over a complex B2B buying process. As it stands, there’s no connection to anything that comes before or after.

It’s like having a great conversation and suddenly, in mid-sentence, the other person gets a text, glances at his smartphone and steps away to deal with it, never returning and leaving you to wonder if you’re really that boring…

That’s exactly how a campaign treats our prospective buyers.

Think about it:

Buyer: I wonder what my peers are doing to address X?

Marketer: This blog post talks about 6 different ways people are dealing with X.

Buyer: That was great information. Oh, look, they’re having a webinar with more examples. Think I’ll sign up.

Marketer: Thanks for attending our webinar. Here’s a link to the replay.

Buyer: I was there. I don’t need to see it again. What else have you got?

Marketer:

Buyer: Hmm. Those examples got me thinking, butI wonder if there are any industry best practices emerging about X?

Marketer:

Buyer: Where’d they go?

Salesperson: Since you attended our webinar, Marketer thought you might want a demo of our solution. Got 30 minutes?

Buyer: What? I’m not even sure this will work for our situation. I need to talk to Kathy and David and Harvey and Sam…

Salesperson: I just sent you an email about a demo, thought I’d leave you a voicemail, too. Want a demo?

Buyer: I wonder who the experts are who can help me learn more about dealing with X? Maybe I’ll try a #hashtag search on Twitter for X…

Marketer:

If you think I’m exagerrating, I’m not. You may be shaking your head, but this is what so many B2B marketing campaigns look like that it makes my head spin. As someone who does a lot of research to learn about industries and solutions to work on client projects, I get subjected to them every day.

The problem with a “campaign mindset” is that you’re missing the Ping to go with your Pong. And your buyers are very aware of the lapse.

But, not to worry. They won’t be waiting on you to fix that issue. They’ve already moved on to someone else who is more helpful and concerned about what they want and need over the longer term. Someone who’s dedicated to playing the game all the way through.

It’s one thing to map content to the buying process. It’s quite another to plan for the Ping-Pong scenarios that will keep the ball in the air.

What new considerations are you adding to your content strategy to account for the back and forth of extended conversation that won’t abruptly leave your buyers hanging?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and the CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. She helps B2B companies with complex sales create and use persona-driven content marketing strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay. Ardath is the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. She's also an in-demand industry speaker.

1 COMMENT

  1. Your vignette is bang-on accurate in representing the disconnectedness between vendors and customers. Too few marketers think about buying processes when they assemble resources for campaigns. Or if they do think about buying processes, it’s a simplified linear “happy path” that fails to account for inevitable diversions, distractions, ‘black swans,’ and other risks. That rigor needs to be applied when charting scenarios for how buyers buy. And as you point out, companies that pour money into marketing campaigns without having empathy for prospect need might be better off not spending it at all.

    I like the ping-pong metaphor, but it, too, is a simplification that assumes vendors and customers interact synchronously. Because much of buying and business development activities occur asychronously, the model breaks down. The resources have to be available 24/7 for prospective customers around the globe to access on just about any computing device. A truer comparison for complex B2B selling would be a ping-pong table that serves as the focal point for interactions, but instead of two players – one at either end – there are dozens of players who show up at the table. They stand anywhere around the perimeter and not all of them bring a ping pong ball. They use other things – say hockey pucks or tennis balls. Oh, I should add that they don’t all show up at the same time, either. And it goes without saying that there’s no consensus on the rules.

    This is not intended to sound glib, though as I read this, the visage is amusing. Somehow, in the midst of this, vendors and buyers need to orchestrate activities and communicate expectations as they go along, because – unlike ping pong – there are no pre-ordained rules. This issue is just one thing that makes complex B2B selling a challenge. Much as consultants (like myself) create neat, logical flowcharts for ‘buyer pathways’ and ‘selling process maps’, they’re theoretical. I didn’t say they’re not useful or valuable – just theoretical. Many failures in strategy and in tactical execution occur because people gave too much credence to these models and didn’t anticipate the risks. Or they didn’t take time to determine which risks matter the most.

    What’s the answer? For one, before any campaign or marketing resource investments are made, vendors need insight into buying pathways. And because buying pathways can be sequenced in a near-infinite number of ways, and because buyer activities are predominantly asynchronous, vendors need to offer resources that enable flexibility, rather than assuming a concrete set of buyer steps.

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